PSYCHOLOGIST, PSYCHIATRIST, COUNSELLOR OR COACH – WHO IS THE RIGHT PROFESSIONAL FOR YOU?
The Helping Professions
There are so many different types of professionals who are available to help with personal and relationship problems. How do you know which is the right one for you? It’s useful to understand a little bit about each helping profession in order to decide whose door to knock on first.
A coach is someone who helps a person attain specific, practical goals or skills. For instance, a coach may help someone start a new business enterprise (a business coach), attain physical fitness (a fitness coach), lose weight (a weight loss coach), find a career direction (a life coach), learn to date (a dating coach), learn some new parenting strategies (a parenting coach) or learn some new marriage skills (a marriage coach). There are coaches who help people with A.D.D. (attention deficit disorder), coaches who help people give better presentations and coaches for just about any other activity that someone might want to learn or be supported in. Coaches are certified by individual agencies – some coaches operate without having a certificate, some have taken a weekend course and others have undertaken extensive coaching education programs that last several years. You need to ask about the experience and qualification of a coach that you are interested in working with. If there is a skill you want to learn or if you’d like support and guidance for a project that you want to undertake, a coach may be the professional for you.
Counselling psychologists and counsellors help healthy people with normal problems of living. They do not diagnose or treat mental health disorders such as major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and so on. A counselling psychologist is a psychologist whose work involves counselling – listening to the client, offering guidance or advice, helping the client to sort out thoughts and feelings, helping the client to reduce stress and helping the client to develop practical plans of action. Some aspects of counselling are similar to those found in coaching. However, counsellors, unlike coaches, can help clients process their emotions in order to attain emotional clarity and stress reduction. Sometimes the block to performance is not lack of knowledge or skill, but rather, internal conflict or fear. Counselling, rather than coaching, addresses the emotional impediments to success. A counselling psychologist has a doctorate degree in psychology and has passed the licensing requirements for psychology (which involves many years of supervised practice after academic studies have been completed, as well as written and oral examinations).
A counsellor is not always a psychological practitioner. Some people have degrees in counselling or another profession such as social work. The training and licensing process varies from profession to profession.
People who want to address specific, emotionally charged issues in their lives – job problems, marriage problems, parenting problems, relationship problems with others (like in-laws, siblings, colleagues, community members, etc.), bereavement issues, divorce issues, weight loss issues and so on – may seek the help of a professional counsellor. Those whose stress levels have left them feeling low, anxious or burned out may consult a counsellor to find ways of addressing that stress and feeling better. (Those whose low mood or anxiety is causing severe distress or difficulty in functioning at home, school or work, should consult a mental-health professional such as a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist – see below.)
Psychiatrists are medical doctors. They have completed medical school, an internship and specialty training in psychiatry. They are qualified to diagnose and treat mental illness. They can prescribe psychotropic medications for mental illnesses like major depression, anxiety disorders and psychotic illnesses. Some psychiatrists provide counselling, some provide only medication and some provide both counselling and medication. Psychiatrists can also treat long term conditions like personality disorders (long standing dysfunctional patterns of behaviour). They can deal with people who are feeling suicidal, people who have severe eating disorders, people who have medication-induced mental disorders, those who hurt themselves or others, those who suffer from compulsive disorders and those who suffer psychotic illness and those who suffer from any other mental-health condition. If your symptoms or your child’s symptoms are severe (causing significant distress), overwhelming, very strange and/or interfering with the ability to function at home, work or school, then a psychiatrist may be the right professional to contact for evaluation and treatment.
Like psychiatrists, clinical psychologists diagnose and treat mental health disorders. However, they do not prescribe medication. They can provide psychotherapy (the treatment of emotional and mental disorders through the use of specific psychological techniques) and counselling (specific interventions to deal with normal but stressful issues such as relationship challenges, parenting problems, work issues, bereavement, divorce and any other life issue). Clinical psychologists go through the same training process as counselling psychologists (see above). If you or your child is experiencing severe symptoms – those that cause intense upset and/or interfere with the ability to function well at home, school or work – then a clinical psychologist may be able to diagnose and treat your problem.
Some psychologists have specific training in the area of psycho-educational assessments. Parents who want to know why their child is performing poorly at school may consult such a practitioner to do a formal assessment. Such assessments describe the child’s performance, suggest causes for the trouble the child is having and offer treatment suggestions and recommendations.